In this lesson, you will learn a safe and proven technique for tackling the writing sample. Perhaps the most misunderstood portion of the entire LSAT is the writing sample. You may have friends who have told you that the writing sample is not an important part of the test. Don't believe them. Even though it is unscored, in some cases it could represent the most important part of your file.
The LSAT test. Has anything ever held as much importance for your future and yet remained as elusive as the LSAT test? The first step in your long journey to LSAT test mastery is to know as much about the test as you can. Sun Tzu said, “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” Of course, Sun Tzu was a mercenary who lived in a semi-barbaric state in second century BCE. The LSAT test is probably a worse enemy than he had in mind.
This series of lesson articles will give you an in-depth overview of the LSAT test. Before learning all about the TestSherpa method for getting the highest score on the LSAT test, you need to know as much about the LSAT test itself as possible. This course will go over the basic anatomy and structure of the LSAT test – as well as some frequently asked questions about the LSAT test — to give you the background you need to complete your TestSherpa courses.
This series includes the following articles:
The LSAT test is a half-day standardized test required for admission to all 202 law schools that are members of the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). It tests reading, verbal and logical reasoning skills as a way of assessing pre-law candidates. The LSAT test is administered four times a year at hundreds of locations around the world. When you’re done with the TestSherpa program for the LSAT test, you will know more about the test than you probably want to know, but that’s what is required to get a high score.
The LSAT test is a 3-hour-and-30-minute exam required for admission by all ABA approved law schools. It is made up of six timed sections — five multiple choice and one unscored essay. The LSAT test is offered four times a year (usually in February, June, October, and December).
Unlike most other entrance exams, the LSAT test does not test what you know. It tests your thinking style. It’s more like a sport than a test. And like all sports, the LSAT test requires practice. If someone told you that you had to win a tennis match to get into a top law school, you’d probably pick up a racket and start practicing right away. Think of the LSAT test as that tennis match and this program as your coach. If you’ve never played tennis before, you’re going to start out with low scores. Likewise, if you’ve never played with logical reasoning, you probably scored low on any sample LSAT test you may have taken. Don’t worry. With exposure to important LSAT concepts and plenty of practice, you’ll be in the best position you can be on test day.
You must register well in advance to take the LSAT test. While late registration is available for a higher charge, you must submit your general request for registration six weeks before the test. LSAT test takers with special needs, such as visual impairment or religious prohibitions against taking test on Saturdays, can be accommodated with timely registration.
What does the LSAT test?
As we mentioned above, the LSAT test doesn’t test what you know; it tests the way you think. A high score on the LSAT test means you have the thinking style and skills of a great law student. \
Here is a specific breakdown of the sections on the LSAT test. Realize that this list is just a list of the sections on the LSAT test. The actual LSAT test sections can come in any order in your test booklet. In fact, since there will be at least five versions of the test booklet passed out during your exam, your neighbor probably won’t take the same section you take at the same time (so don’t cheat off her answer grid).
- Logical Reasoning: two 35 minute sections of 24-27 questions
- Reading Comprehension: Five passages (three long, two shorter for you to compare and contrast) in one 35-minute section of 26-28 questions
- Analytical Reasoning: four logic games or puzzles in one 35 minute section of 24-27 questions
- Experimental Section: One section that the LSAT test makers use to test new questions – it can be any of the above and you won’t be able to tell which one it is, so take all sections seriously
- Writing Sample: one 35-minute essay
Now let’s take a slightly deeper dive into each section to give you a better understanding of what you face on the LSAT Test.
LSAT Test Section: Logical Reasoning
Since there are two logical reasoning sections out of the four scored sections, this is the most important skill tested on the exam. It accounts for half your scaled score. You must show your familiarity with arguments by identifying their components, weakening or strengthening them, or manipulating them in some other fashion.
Each 35-minute section contains 24 to 27 questions.
The following is an example of a Logical Reasoning question:
Recent studies of preventative health care show the positive effects of regular health care. Although the frequency of visits to a physician varies in the population, an analysis of the data indicates that those who visit a physician at least twice each year have significantly fewer health problems than those who do not.
Which one of the following is most clearly implied in the argument above?
(A) A person with few health problems is likely to have recently visited a dentist.
(B) If one has a significant number of health problems, it is likely that one has visited a physician fewer than two times a year.
(C) Most people visit their physician semiannually, and therefore have little reason to worry about cancer.
(D) In order to have fewer health problems, one need only visit a doctor twice a year.
(E) Frequency of health care can affect the number of health problems experienced by an individual.
In case you care, the answer to this question is E. Don’t worry about why for now. We’re going to cover Logical Reasoning in much greater detail later on after we’ve discussed a few basic principles.
LSAT Test Section: Reading Comprehension
In this section, you must read five passages and demonstrate your understanding of the information they contain. Three of the passages stand alone and have questions related to them individually. You are asked to compare and contrast the other two passages in the 6-8 questions asked about them. You must identify large themes, paragraph themes, and make inferences based on the material you read. This scored 35-minute section contains 26 to 28 questions.
Typically, the passages in this section are long and boring. Why? Because you’ll need to read and understand long boring writing in law school as fast as possible.
The following is an example of a Reading Comprehension question:
It could be inferred from the passage that which one of the following groups would most likely have an increased role in a privatized Cuban economy.
(A) U.S. banks
(B) Cuban economists
(C) American companies
(D) Private citizen groups
(E) Cuban expatriates
Don’t worry about a right answer — you haven’t even seen the reading passage yet. This question is just an example of a type of question offered in the Reading Comprehension section. We’ll cover Reading Comprehension in much greater detail later on.
LSAT Test Section: Analytical Reasoning
You may hear your peers talk about this section as the “games” or “puzzles” section. That’s because the section asks you to play with four logic puzzles. Even though many students find this the most intimidating section to begin with, most TestSherpa students who complete the entire course find this section relatively easy (or even fun).
This scored 35-minute section contains 24-27 questions. This section tests your ability to analyze situations using formal logic.
The following is an example of a Logical Reasoning question:
If file cabinet 3 has more folders than file cabinet 4, how many of the file cabinets could have the least folders?
Again, don’t worry about a right answer for this example. Without seeing the puzzle this question is based on, it’s impossible to find an answer. We’ll cover Analytical Reasoning in greater detail later.
LSAT Test Section: Experimental Section
This section will most likely look like one of the three sections listed above. The test makers use this section to test out questions and sections for upcoming exams. If questions and sections offered experimentally prove to be too hard or too easy based on the random sampling of test takers, they are thrown out. Otherwise, they might make it on a subsequent test.
Even though this section doesn’t count toward your score, you won’t be able to tell that it is experimental. That is, if you get two Reading Comprehension sections on your LSAT, you know that one of them is the experimental section, but you don’t know which one. You must take all sections of the LSAT seriously.
LSAT Test Section: The Writing Sample
Many unscrupulous and commercial (greedy) test preparation outfits would lead you to believe that the writing sample is unimportant. We’ve even seen materials from a famous national test review company that say your writing sample will go unread. That’s a ridiculous and dangerous lie. If someone tells you that the writing sample on the LSAT test is unimportant and then asks for thousands of dollars to prepare you for it, run the other way as fast as you can.
The truth is, the LSAT test did not offer a writing section — until several top schools asked for it. Sure, if you score a 180 and have an A+ average from Harvard, they may not read your writing sample. This is also true if you score a 125 and have a C- average. But you will undoubtedly fall somewhere inside that range. The Writing Sample gives you an opportunity to sneak ahead of candidates who otherwise share similar LSAT Test scores and backgrounds with you.
Having said that, you won’t need to spend too much time studying for the Writing Sample. The TestSherpa method gives you a quick outline to follow regardless of the topic you’re given. There is no right or wrong answer on the Writing Sample. Law schools are interested in the way you organize your arguments, as well as demonstrating vocabulary, grammar, and other writing mechanics. By following the simple TestSherpa method, you will demonstrate all the features law schools are looking for in your writing.
The following is an example of a topic for the Writing Sample:
Bill Fenton is a mechanic looking to buy a used car to fix up and sell at a profit. Write an essay in support of one of two possible automobiles, keeping in mind Bill’s requirements:
- Bill needs to earn a profit quickly because his cash flow is limited.
- Bill wants to establish a reputation of selling the finest used cars to build a successful business.
Car A is a relatively new car. It requires only a modest amount of work. The car is like many modern economy cars, is inexpensive, and easy to maintain. Unfortunately, the car was painted a very unpopular color and Bill does not own the equipment necessary to repaint the car.
Car B is a classic sports car. Bill purchased car B in a junkyard for much less than the renovated car will be worth. Parts for the car are hard to find, and could take weeks to find and ship from different parts of the country.
LSAT Test: An Overview Summary
- The LSAT test consists of five 35-minute multiple-choice scored sections and one 35-minute writing sample.
- The LSAT test has five multiple-choice sections that can appear in any order in your LSAT test booklet. One of them is experimental and unscored — used to help design future LSAT tests — but you do not know which one. You must take all sections of the LSAT test with the same diligence.
- The LSAT test section for Logical Reasoning section accounts for half of your score. It tests your ability to understand and manipulate arguments.
- The LSAT test section for Reading Comprehension tests your ability to understand long boring passages and make inference from them.
- The LSAT test section for Analytical Reasoning, sometimes referred to as games or puzzles, tests your ability to analyze situations with formal logic. With some experience and practice, this section goes from being their most feared section of the LSAT test to their favorite section.
- Although the LSAT test Writing Sample is not scored, it is important since it can be a tie-breaker between you and another candidate with similar LSAT test scores and experiences.
The next article will discuss LSAT scores, how they are determined, and what affect they have on your chances for entering the law school of your choice.